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January Full Of Excitement, Stress For NW Olympic Hopefuls

The month of January promises to serve up lots of excitement, angst and pressure for the many Olympic hopefuls from the Northwest. They’ve got about three weeks left to qualify for a spot on the U.S. team bound for the Winter Olympics which begin in Russia in early February.

More than two dozen skiers, snowboarders and skaters from Oregon, Idaho and Washington have a plausible shot at making the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. Relatively few American athletes have secured their Olympic berths so far. Most slots are still up for grabs.

Many the Northwest athletes are what you might call “on the bubble,” meaning they have to post career-best performances or see a rival stumble in order to punch a ticket to Sochi. Alpine skier Hailey Duke of Sun Valley feels the pressure.

“You know, it’s do or die. You go out there and either you perform or you don’t. You better leave it out there. Otherwise, you’ll have questions for the rest of your life,” said Hailey Duke, who has a claim on comeback-story-of-the-year if she makes the Olympic team.

Duke had brain surgery last February to remove a benign tumor. Now, she is on her home mountain, slicing through a slalom-training course with authority.

“My skiing is just now starting to evolve into what it used to be a long time ago. So it is exciting to feel it. Is the stress there? Absolutely. I have to get myself to the race. I don’t have the national team behind me,” Duke said.

Duke is by no means unique trying to return to peak form in the nick of time. Another Sun Valley skier Wing Tai Barrymore is coming back from double knee surgery. 

U.S. ski team coaches and officials will wait until practically the last possible moment to finalize their team selections. In many disciplines, athletes will get the happy or sad news between Jan. 20 and 26.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.